Setting the tone: A Planner’s notes on attending a sombre event

Setting the tone: A Meeting Planner’s notes on attending a sombre eventNot too long ago I attended an event which was quite sombre in nature. After it ended and  I started back home on a four-hour drive, I had plenty of time to analyze the event with the final realization that a minor miracle had happened: a flawless celebration and tribute to the life of a remarkable man. There was little time to coordinate it all – only hours in fact.

We always say that we are only as good as our suppliers. And how true that is! The planning was done in the usual haste as is the case for such events and with much discretion and good taste. It must be stressful in many ways. The top priority besides ensuring that everything fell into place would be always keeping in mind the mentally fragile state of the client.

The venue’s website was perfect for finding directions, but there was no mention of the event as per the client’s request. I was impressed upon arrival that nothing was given away. This was to be a very private affair.

As we entered the venue, we were guided to a lovely sedate room where our coats magically disappeared to be whisked away to some hidden location only to appear later on when required. We were gently steered towards our hosts and a couple of chairs appeared out of nowhere. After a few minutes of conversation, I and the other guests were all guided to the presentation. Before everyone was seated, the doors quietly closed and we were in a world of our own.

Only family and close friends were gathered, and one by one people took centre stage to speak. After many heartfelt tributes, we all rose as if upon cue to make our way to an adjoining room for refreshments. No one was very hungry so it was very appropriate to be offered just the right sustenance, nothing outlandish. The serving staff glided in and out, so unobtrusively. After another 30 minutes of slightly uplifting conversation, we got up to leave and were gently handed our coats.

As I went out into the bitter coldness of the evening, I left with such a feeling of calmness and serenity and deep affection for those with whom I had just spent two hours. I came to the conclusion that the success of this event depended not only upon the excellent planning but on the very appropriate tone and good all-round feeling generated by the venue, and the staff who were inconspicuous, only appearing when absolutely necessary to perform some essential task.

The attendants actually happened to be the owners of the venue. I believe that this really does make a difference in attitude. They were experienced and had done this many times before. There were no hiccups, no fumbles, only smooth and discreet service – from the quiet welcome to the calmness and safe haven of a private room that felt our very own for a brief moment in time – just enough time to give thanks and pay tribute.

This was a revelation. I had never really thought much about tone in my events, probably subconsciously as I knew what had to be done to create a festive or serious event, but I do not think that I had quite analyzed it to this extent. In many events, there are always a few VIPs that one is told have to be treated with kid gloves, yet I was convinced that every one of us had been treated with the utmost reverence and consideration. This definitely helped to set the tone.

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